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5 Fast Facts About Esther Afua Ocloo

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Today, Google is celebrating what would have been the 98th birthday of Esther Afua Ocloo with a Google Doodle. Just who was this groundbreaking businesswoman who was known to so many as “Auntie Ocloo”? Read on for five fast facts about her life and legacy.

1. SHE STARTED HER FIRST BUSINESS WITH LESS THAN A DOLLAR.

Thanks to a scholarship and the generosity of an aunt, Esther Afua Ocloo was able to attend Achimota School, one of Ghana’s most prestigious boarding schools. But unlike so many of her classmates, Ocloo—who was born Esther Afua Nkulenu—did not come from a wealthy family. (Her father was a blacksmith and her mother was a potter and farmer.) Still, Ocloo was determined to succeed in life, and on her own terms.

After graduating from high school, her aunt gifted her with 10 shillings (less than a dollar), which she used to purchase sugar, oranges, and a dozen jars in order to make some marmalade that she could sell. “I was determined to turn that 10 shillings into two pounds at least,” Ocloo recalled in an interview years later. "With six shillings I bought the ingredients to make marmalade, and went to the street side to sell the jars of marmalade. Within an hour I had sold all my jars and turned six shillings into 12! I was so excited I treated myself to a delicious lunch.”

2. SHE WAS ENCOURAGED BY HER FORMER TEACHERS.

Though she attended school with the children of some of Ghana’s most prominent families, Ocloo didn’t concern herself with the look of things. “Ghana was taking on more of the values of our colonizer, Britain,” she said of the atmosphere in Ghana in the early 1940s. “The attitude to people doing blue-collar work was terrible. In my days, people who had received a secondary education were expected to seek jobs in offices, managerial positions. I was ridiculed by all my classmates, who saw me hawking marmalade on the street like an uneducated street vendor. I went to a school with prestige, [where] the Ghanaians trying to mimic our colonizers looked down on the old fashioned traditions. But 80 percent of our teachers were European, and they were excited when they heard what I was doing.”

They were so excited that Ocloo’s alma mater became her first big client. “They invited me to supply the school with my marmalade two times a week,” she said. “They were so impressed with how successful my business was, they began reserving a percentage of my profits to save money for me to go to England for further training.” Between that and the contract she eventually secured with the military, Ocloo was able to take out a bank loan and make her business—known as Nkulenu Industries—official. The company is still doing business today, making jams and other food items, which are exported around the world.

3. SHE WAS THE FIRST BLACK INDIVIDUAL TO RECEIVE A COOKING DIPLOMA FROM THE GOOD HOUSEKEEPING INSTITUTE.

In addition to helping her get her first business off the ground, the Achimota School also helped Ocloo further her education. Between 1949 and 1951, the school sponsored her trip to England, where she received post-graduate training. In 1951, she received a cooking diploma from the Good Housekeeping Institute in London; she was the first black individual to achieve the honor. She also took classes in food science, technology, preservation, nutrition, and agriculture at Bristol University.

4. SHE DEDICATED HER LIFE TO HELPING OTHER WOMEN SUCCEED.

When Ocloo returned to Ghana, she wasn’t about to keep all of that education to herself. Instead, she dedicated much of her time and life to empowering other women to become self-sufficient, establishing a farm-based program to help teach women about business, food production, agriculture, and craft-making.

''I have taught them to cost the things they sell and determine their profits,'' Ocloo said. ''You know what we found? We found that a woman selling rice and stew on the side of the street is making more money than most women in office jobs—but they are not taken seriously."

In a separate interview, Ocloo spoke about where her desire to empower women came from. “I came from an underprivileged family,” she told The Odyssey. “I wanted to see to it that women were equipped to help their children so they don't suffer the same hardships. Women can contribute effectively—socially, economically, and culturally. Women are the economic backbone of West Africa. They produce over 80 percent of our food—from growing, to producing, to distributing, yet their jobs are not regarded in a high esteem.”

Over the course of her life, Ocloo helped to found eight nonprofit organizations, including the Sustainable End of Hunger Foundation and Women's World Banking, a microlending organization that gives small loans to female business owners who are unable to secure traditional bank loans. The organization operates in more than two dozen countries.

5. SHE BECAME THE FIRST WOMAN TO RECEIVE THE AFRICA PRIZE FOR LEADERSHIP.

In 1990, Ocloo achieved yet another first when she became the first woman to receive the Africa Prize for Leadership, an award given by The Hunger Project to “outstanding leaders from every level and every sector of society. Individually, their accomplishments have improved the lives of tens of millions of people. Together, they represent a new possibility.” True to form, Ocloo reinvested much of her prize money in the women she fought so hard to empower. Following her passing in 2002, The New York Times reported that when Ocloo’s children once complained to her about how all that training was only helping her competitors, Ocloo responded that, “I don't listen. My main goal is to help my fellow women. If they make better marmalade than me, I deserve the competition.”

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Pop Culture
How Jimmy Buffett Turned 'Margaritaville' Into a Way of Life
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Few songs have proven as lucrative as “Margaritaville,” a modest 1977 hit by singer and songwriter Jimmy Buffett that became an anthem for an entire life philosophy. The track was the springboard for Buffett’s business empire—restaurants, apparel, kitchen appliances, and more—marketing the taking-it-easy message of its tropical print lyrics.

After just a few years of expanding that notion into other ventures, the “Parrot Heads” of Buffett’s fandom began to account for $40 million in annual revenue—and that was before the vacation resorts began popping up.

Jimmy Buffett performs for a crowd
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“Margaritaville,” which turned 40 this year, was never intended to inspire this kind of devotion. It was written after Buffett, as an aspiring musician toiling in Nashville, found himself in Key West, Florida, following a cancelled booking in Miami and marveling at the sea of tourists clogging the beaches.

Like the other songs on his album, Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes, it didn’t receive a lot of radio play. Instead, Buffett began to develop his following by opening up for The Eagles. Even at 30, Buffett was something less than hip—a flip-flopped performer with a genial stage presence that seemed to invite an easygoing vibe among crowds. “Margaritaville,” an anthem to that kind of breezy attitude, peaked at number eight on the Billboard charts in 1977. While that’s impressive for any single, its legacy would quickly evolve beyond the music industry's method for gauging success.

What Buffett realized as he continued to perform and tour throughout the early 1980s is that “Margaritaville” had the ability to sedate audiences. Like a hypnotist, the singer could immediately conjure a specific time and place that listeners wanted to revisit. The lyrics painted a scene of serenity that became a kind of existential vacation for Buffett's fans:

Nibblin' on sponge cake,
Watchin' the sun bake;
All of those tourists covered with oil.
Strummin' my six string on my front porch swing.
Smell those shrimp —
They're beginnin' to boil.

By 1985, Buffett was ready to capitalize on that goodwill. In Key West, he opened a Margaritaville store, which sold hats, shirts, and other ephemera to residents and tourists looking to broadcast their allegiance to his sand-in-toes fantasy. (A portion of the proceeds went to Save the Manatees, a nonprofit organization devoted to animal conservation.) The store also sold the Coconut Telegraph, a kind of propaganda newsletter about all things Buffett and his chill perspective.

When Buffett realized patrons were coming in expecting a bar or food—the song was named after a mixed drink, after all—he opened a cafe adjacent to the store in late 1987. The configuration was ideal, and through the 1990s, Buffett and business partner John Cohlan began erecting Margaritaville locations in Florida, New Orleans, and eventually Las Vegas and New York. All told, more than 21 million people visit a Buffett-inspired hospitality destination every year.

A parrot at Margaritaville welcomes guests
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Margaritaville-branded tequila followed. So, too, did a line of retail foods like hummus, a book of short stories, massive resorts, a Sirius radio channel, and drink blenders. Buffett even wrote a 242-page script for a Margaritaville movie that he had hoped to film in the 1980s. It’s one of the very few Margaritaville projects that has yet to have come to fruition, but it might be hard for Buffett to complain much. In 2015, his entire empire took in $1.5 billion in sales.

As of late, Buffett has signed off on an Orlando resort due to open in 2018, offering “casual luxury” near the boundaries of Walt Disney World. (One in Hollywood, Florida, is already a hit, boasting a 93 percent occupancy rate.) Even for guests that aren’t particularly familiar with his music, “Jimmy Buffett” has become synonymous with comfort and relaxation just as surely as Walt Disney has with family entertainment. The association bodes well for a business that will eventually have to move beyond Buffett’s concert-going loyalists.

Not that he's looking to leave them behind. The 70-year-old Buffett is planning on a series of Margaritaville-themed retirement communities, with the first due to open in Daytona Beach in 2018. More than 10,000 Parrot Heads have already registered, eager to watch the sun set while idling in a frame of mind that Buffett has slowly but surely turned into a reality.

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The Secret to the World's Most Comfortable Bed Might Be Yak Hair
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Savoir Beds laughs at your unspooling mail-order mattresses and their promises of ultimate comfort. The UK-based company has teamed with London's Savoy Hotel to offer what they’ve declared is one of the most luxurious nights of sleep you’ll ever experience. 

What do they have that everyone else lacks? About eight pounds of Mongolian yak hair.

The elegantly-named Savoir No. 1 Khangai Limited Edition is part of the hotel’s elite Royal Suite accommodations. For $1845 a night, guests can sink into the mattress with a topper stuffed full of yak hair from Khangai, Mongolia. Hand-combed and with heat-dispensing properties, it takes 40 yaks to make one topper. In a press release, collaborator and yarn specialist Tengri claims it “transcends all levels of comfort currently available.”

Visitors opting for such deluxe amenities also have access to a hair stylist, butler, chef, and a Rolls-Royce with a driver.

Savoir Beds has entered into a fair-share partnership with the farmers, who receive an equitable wage in exchange for the fibers, which are said to be softer than cashmere. If you’d prefer to luxuriate like that every night, the purchase price for the bed is $93,000. Purchased separately, the topper is $17,400. Act soon, as only 50 of the beds will be made available each year. 

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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